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Inside the Cougars' Den: Pondering switch a Chief concern

Published: Thursday, April 25, 2013 5:31 a.m. CDT
(Sandy Bressner - sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Cougars shortstop Marco Hernandez played against his former team – but not his former teammates – when Peoria visited Fifth Third Bank Ballpark this week.

GENEVA – Catcher Chadd Krist expects to encounter jovial – not jilted – Peorians when the Cougars travel to the Midwest League’s other Illinois outpost next month.

His experience behind the plate in Peoria and his time spent living on the city’s outskirts convince him. The first leg of the Cougars-Chiefs “Remember Us?” series was reassuring, too.

Peoria, a Class-A Cubs affiliate from 2005 to 2012, visited the new North Siders-in-waiting when it came to Fifth Third Bank Ballpark this week. It provided a natural setting for Krist and nine teammates to reflect on last season’s stints with the Chiefs. The verdict? Change is good.

“We had a lot of fun in Peoria. Fans were great,” Krist said. “But it’s definitely nice being here now that we’re next to Chicago, so it’s definitely an upgrade for us.”

Peoria’s Cubs partnership figures to stick around Midwest League lore as long as duffel bags remain durable. The Cubs issue red and blue bags to each minor leaguer, accessories emblazoned with a team’s place name above the Cubs logo.

Cougars left-hander Jeffry Antigua still uses a Peoria Cubs duffel, and why not? He appeared in 52 games with the Chiefs over parts of the 2009 to 2012 seasons.

Bullpen-mate Stephen Perakslis sits on a bench on the other end of the spectrum.

After finishing the 2012 Rookie League season in Mesa, Ariz., the Chiefs promoted Perakslis for the final weekend of MWL play. He made his lone appearance for Peoria when it visited the Cougars, who at that time were finishing a two-year player-development contract with the Kansas City Royals.

“I was only in Peoria for a night, and the next morning we came here, so I really didn’t see too much of Peoria,” Perakslis said.

The Chiefs aligned with the St. Louis Cardinals a few weeks later, rekindling an initial affiliation that lasted from 1995 to 2004. Six MWL clubs signed new player-development contracts during the offseason, all in the Western Division.

Indications from Peoria are that fans haven’t pouted about the switch, or the Chiefs’ change of primary colors from blue to red. The city’s professional baseball allegiances traditionally have been torn, following the pattern of many Illinois burgs located south of Intersate 80.

Cougars reliever Nathan Dorris grew up a Cardinals fan in downstate Carbondale before he accompanied a friend to a Cubs game in fifth or sixth grade, prompting a conversion.

“Just the whole aura of Wrigley Field kind of sucked me in,” Dorris said.

It used to be Chiefs players aspired to reach the Friendly Confines. Now that’s the Cougars’ ambition.

For several Kane County players, seeing Chiefs Stadium in Peoria this summer could provide a similar thrill, at least initially. Cougars infielder Wes Darvill visited with Chiefs radio voice and media contact Nathan Baliva this week and was happy to learn most of Peoria’s front office personnel from 2012 were intact.

“It’ll be fun to go see them, catch up with all those people,” Darvill said. “Obviously, you develop relationships with them over the course of a season.”

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